It has started. And it is intensifying. The media exploitation of the tragic events, which took place on 9-11, has begun. As a result of this, individuals touched by the attacks on the World Trade Center, the Pentagon, along with the families and friends of those who died violently in the plane crashes, are finding themselves assaulted with images. Scenes of the World Trade Center exploding and crashing down, images of airplanes being driven into buildings and the aftermath of charred fields where one plane had gone down are being used to increase television ratings and sell everything from books to music. This morning, I heard a somewhat tasteless interview on a major radio station. The musician being interviewed was discussing his upcoming album and his 9-11 “related” songs.

Over 100 books dedicated totally to the 9-11 tragedies are due to be released this week. One book chain owner remarked that the release of these books at this particular time is not intended to “exploit” the tragedy. Knowing the publishing business well, I find this difficult to believe.

News shows have begun pounding viewers with scenes of 9-11 events and television as a whole, from news show, to educational channels, are focusing programming whole-heartedly, on these events. Businesses are creatively finding ways to “use” the 9-11 one-year anniversary to “beef up” sales. Of course most of these businesses would never come clean about this. Sadly, such exploitation belittles the events of 9-11 and triggers feelings of hurt, anguish and pain for many Americans impacted by this ordeal.

When the shuttle Challenger blew up, shortly after lift off, in front of the astronauts’ families, friends, NASA workers and the American people, my community was devastated. At that time, I was living down the street from Johnston Space Center and was all too familiar, both professionally and personally, with the space industry. After this tragedy, the media repeatedly aired film footage, of the shuttle exploding, in mid air. During this time, both my husband and I worked within the community, in the capacity of mental healthcare professions, with those directly affected by this particular tragedy. As one youngster said, “Every time I see the shuttle blow up on TV, I think it’s happening again and I want to cry.” A woman reported, “These constant scenes, images, play over and over in my head. Why do I have to be bombarded with this every time I turn on the television?” Ten years after Challenger blew up, a national observance commemorating the event, took place. Several months prior to the commemoration, those close to the tragedy began re-living those devastating days. Those individuals, who had taken steps to process their grief, were better able to cope, but in spite of this, intense feelings were re-experienced by all involved.

This week, the second week in September 2002, barely a year will have passed since 9-11. Wounds still run very, very deep and the images of this tragic moment in history continue to regularly trigger many overwhelming emotions. Those directly effected with loss, devastation, hurt, and pain, are just now emotionally “defrosting” and are finally in an emotionally safe place to begin processing their grief, anger and fear. When trauma strikes, most of us click into “survival mode.” We don’t have time to really “feel” the emotions associated with the trauma. There are concrete matters to attend to and strong emotion is often pushed aside. Months on down the road, after the trauma, images return, feelings surface in the form of emotional breakdowns, triggered by visual images or other sensory sensations related to the trauma. Smells, visual scenes, nightmares, funerals, holidays, anniversaries can suddenly pull up once repressed emotion, leaving the experiencer feeling overwhelmed confused.

With the year anniversary of 9-11 quickly approaching, media coverage and bombardment, in the form of magazines, newspapers, radio programming, commercialization, books and television programming is increasing. With the rise in proliferation of the 9-11 related sales tactics and other activities, the workload of professionals like myself is also on the rise. Feeling the feelings, slowly sorting out emotions related to grief, is important but being overwhelmed with triggers can be abusive. In order to combat this I have put together a number of survival tips for those I work with. Please feel free to send these suggestions to others.

Surviving 9-11 Anniversary Triggers and Commercialization

Don’t watch media coverage of the 9-11 events in excess. Limit your viewing of such programming. You can also give yourself permission to abstain from reading material devoted to 9-11. Turn off radios and televisions.

If you are interested in 9-11 programming, but begin to feel overwhelmed, tape shows for viewing later on, when you can control just how much triggering you can take. Put away from view, 9-11 reading material and give yourself a break. If you like to relax with television, tune into channels with limited 9-11 coverage or rent movie videos. Change radio channel stations if the 9-11 coverage becomes too much. Turn from news programs to strictly music stations.

If you find yourself obsessed, immobilized or consumed with watching, reading or listening to 9-11 coverage, know you are being triggered and have slipped into Post Traumatic Stress Syndrome Behavior. Possibly 9-11 coverage is triggering for you unresolved trauma or personal loss. Survivors of trauma, violence, and sexual assault are especially at risk for being caught up the emotional intensity of the 9-11 anniversary. The trauma of this event could trigger in you emotions related to your own trauma. Immediately put down all 9-11 reading material, turn off the radio and the television. Get out of the house, exercise, return to hobbies, spiritual activities, social groups. If needed, contact a helping professional for assistance.

Individuals who have suffered a recent loss also need to be on guard. Grief will trigger grief. If your grief leaves you feeling hopeless, suicidal, know you need to reach out to others. Events in the here and now WILL bring to the surface, unresolved hurtful, painful, grief experiences from the past. During such times the here and now can become entwined with the past and it is important to seek out assistance to sort this out. If your grief resurfaces, seek out support or professional assistance.

If you become angry about the commercialization of this event, talk to others who will understand, 12 step support group members, church or temple friends, your therapist, healthcare professionals, or sit down and write about it. Discharging anger with pillow hitting, or other healthy physical activity is also useful.

If you have a past history of heavy drinking, prescription drug abuse, excessive illegal drug use, food disorders such as compulsive eating or anorexia, sexual acting out or any other addictive behavior, know you could be at risk for increase in these behaviors or relapse at this time. Seek out supportive resources, talk about your feelings, and write about them.

If you have children, understand, that they can often have questions about these events, especially if they are bombarded with 9-11 media coverage, programming and school discussion. Rent child appropriate videos or go to children’s television programming for the next few months and watch out for excessive exposure of 9-11 coverage. With visual media coverage children often think tragic events are actually happening again. Questions and concerns about death, dying, “people who hate us” have already popped up with my 8 year old and we have had some very meaningful conversations. If questions from youngsters do arise, take them seriously. If you have issues with death and dying and feel uncomfortable talking to your children about such issues, find someone who can talk to them in your place. In discussing death with children, I will put a full teapot on a stove. I then share:

“This teapot is like the human body. Inside, this teapot is water. That’s like the soul of the person. When we die, the physical body will die, but not the soul. As the water in the teapot boils on the stove, watch the steam leaving the teapot. The soul is sort of like the steam in this teapot. When its time, it leaves the body, just like the steam leaving the teapot.”

For the next month, we as a society will re-experience the devastation of 9-11. Though the terrorist attacks were beyond our control, know that today; a year later, we can control just how much information we receive about this event. Marking 9-11 is incredibly important. If we don’t acknowledge the past with the utmost respect and care, the past is bound to repeat itself. Many 9-11 events will with honor, mark this tragic time in history. Unfortunately, there will be those who will use this day to promote cars, soda pop, furniture, radio, and television programming, and more, in a manner, which crosses the line. You do not have to be victimized again. Remember, the choice really is yours. Do take care during this most tender of times.

Carla Wills-Brandon


  • Carla Wills-Brandon is the author of 12 published books. She has appeared on numerous television talk shows such as Geraldo Rivera, Montel Williams and Sally Jessy Raphael. Ms. Brandon has a Master's Degree in Clinical Psychology, a Ph.D. in Nutrition and she has been in Private Practice as a Licensed Marriage and Family Therapist, with her husband, Michael Brandon, Ph.D., for 20 years.